The Ethics of Wildlife Photography
BPOTY judge Victoria Hillman shares her approach to this important aspect of wildlife photography.
Over the last few years, the ethics of wildlife and nature photography has played a huge part in not only my own photography work but also in my workshops and talks. All my work, unless otherwise stated, has been photographed where found, I never garden around my subjects or move them to somewhere just to get a cleaner shot. If the habitat is tricky I just find a way to incorporate it into the image or find another subject. I am very careful as to where I not only put my feet, but also my camera bag and tripod if I have them with me.
Research into your subject is a great way to a more ethical approach to wildlife photography. The more you understand about your subject and their habitat and how they interact the better the chance you have of capturing something truly beautiful and natural, be it a portrait or a behaviour. It’s important to check whether the use of flash may cause disturbance and this will vary on the time of day and subject.
We are constantly being encouraged to go and take photographs be it for competitions, both weekly ones through social media and larger international competitions, and also to share regularly on social media so should the organisations that run these have an active role in promoting responsible and ethical wildlife photography rather than just encouraging people to take photos?
Personally, I think yes they should be promoting responsible and ethical wildlife photography rather than just saying get out and take photographs. If they are encouraging people to go and take photographs then they should be providing information on the importance of being responsible about it to protect wildlife and their habitats, otherwise there are those that will do whatever it takes to get the shot at whatever cost to the subject if they think it will win them a competition or a whole load of sharing and likes on social media.
I am very pleased to see that many of the top competitions are doing more to consider the ethics behind images that are submitted and including ethics guidelines in the rules, not only that but more competitions are including people on the judging panels that are able to question the ethics of an image from forced portraits to unethical means of capturing a behaviour. Furthermore many of these competitions are now thinking carefully about the partners and sponsors they have on board, to me this really shows they are leading the way to more ethical wildlife photography.
So here’s some food for thought next time you go out to take photographs, be it for a job, a competition or just for fun. The welfare of your subject is the most important thing you need to consider, you should never put your need for an image before the welfare of your subject, and it certainly isn’t worth damaging nature in the short term or permanently just because you may win a competition. Our nature is undergoing enough challenges right now, we don’t need to add careless and thoughtless photographers to that mix.
To all those careful and responsible photographers out there, great job keep it going and encourage others to do the same. We all have the chance to promote ethical wildlife photography to protect our wildlife and its habitats so it can survive for generations to come.
Please do make sure you read the rules of the competition carefully so your images don’t get thrown out on ethical grounds and good luck.